How to make a train out of a bus

As home to one of the few extensive bus rapid transit (BRT) networks in North America, we tend to forget what a marvellous system we have. Cities such as New York, which we yearn to emulate for its pedestrianizing activities, and its new bike ways, struggles to get bus lanes on regular streets let alone a bus-only road network such as we have in Ottawa.

Our BRT is closer to a rail-transit network than the typical bus-on-streets-in-mixed-traffic that most urban transit systems are still stuck in. Our largely grade-separated transitway makes it frequently faster to take the bus than to drive a car, provided your origin and destination are along the transitway spine.

In Las Vegas they have a successful double-decker high frequency bus route running along the “strip”. Called The Deuce, it has curbside ticket sales and is wildly popular. More recently they introduced an express bus version, using low-floor articulated buses with more spread-apart stops. In the photo above, you can see both types of service. Both bus services operate in mixed traffic. The vending machines were admirably simple to operate –select, insert, take — which is vital in a city with so many visitors (in varying states of concentration).

The express service is explicitly designed to emulate a train/LRT/metro service. Stops are fairly far apart. Easy-to-use curbside machines vend tickets and passes . The curbside stops are not elevated platforms, so there still is a step up to get on board. But the intriguing innovation is they market the bus like a train. So it looks like a train.

At first glance, it does seem to be a train service running along the street. The roof line is straight, the front “cab” looks like no North American bus on the road today, and the wheels are covered with fenders. This wheel covering is amazingly effective, it makes the bus look faster and smoother than a conventional bus. On the front wheels of the bus, a super hubcap forms the wheel covering.  

Marketing is not everything, of course. There has to be a service and fare package to go with the marketing position. But the make-it-look-like-a-train format does play well to those who favour train technology as the  transit solution.

If you can’t have trainsets, at least it can look like you do. And in Vegas, it’s all glitz and glamour and image. But with substance behind the marketing hype.